Maybe it’s just because I have a kid now, but when Taj posted that he was selling some artwork to help fund his first go at a children’s book, I got really excited. I immediately went to his online shop with the intention of buying something. Unfortunately, pretty much everything in my price range was sold (maybe you have more disposable income than I do? If so, go look), but he did have a pre-order option that would get you a signed hard-copy version of Bernie The Bike Builder.

I’ve always wondered how you seem to find the time to do all these doodles/drawings in between running Fairdale and other life happenings…how much of your day is consumed scribbling? Taj: Since I moved up to the woods here in Houghton, Michigan, I stepped back from running the day to day stuff at Fairdale. I’m mostly just doing graphics and helping out with the direction of things. Drawing has been becoming a bigger and bigger part of my life in the last few years and I’m making my living as a freelance illustrator. This might get deep quickly, but it is the first thing I’ve found that can fulfill me the way riding BMX did. Just like BMX I can’t wait to do more of it, and every single project is a chance to try something new. Obviously I’m not too likely to break bones, but there is a certain risk factor I really enjoy… I tend to dive into big projects and get about half way through and realize I’m not sure if it is working (because I tried something new I’ve never done before). I get this funny feeling that reminds me of being in the middle of a BMX trick… “uh oh, is this gonna’ work?” When it all comes together and I pull it off it feels awesome. 

I do a lot of doodling too though with no real purpose. I’ve found that is a way to keep my creativity flowing. Just keep my brain moving without thought or concern for the finished product. Actually, that reminds me of BMX, too. Sometimes I would have a creative drought where I just couldn’t think of something new. The solution was to just get on the bike and pedal around. Stop trying to figure out what comes next, get back to the basics of just riding, and just let it come naturally. 

From thought to instagram post, how much time does an average creation take? It depends a lot. I can do cartoony style in a few minutes. When I paint or really put effort into things it can take a few days. 

What’s your motivation for doing a children’s book? Two main things. The first is that I’ve just had this story stuck in my head for years. I’ll use another BMX comparison and say it is like that rail you know you should do, but still haven’t. I don’t know why exactly the idea appeared in my brain but it did so I wanted to see the challenge through. The other motivation is that this is super fun! I’d love to do more book projects. Writing them is cool, but really, I’d like to find work illustrating other people’s stories. I figure having this project done will be like a resume I can show authors. The dream would be to have a budget to spend a few months totally focused on a book project without having to do anything else. 

Also, I’m calling this a kid’s book because I don’t really know what else to call it. I certainly hope that kids do enjoy it (and there is nothing age inappropriate in it), but I kind of think it might be more of a kid’s book for adults—if that makes sense. I guess like I said, the story has been stuck in my head for years so I just tried to tell that story. It hits on some concepts that are going to be over most kid’s heads. Like that idea of putting some of your heart, or love, or whatever you want to call it into what you create makes that thing more special (another BMX ideal I have always believed in). 

Bernie is the name of your grandfather and you’re obviously a bike creator (not quite builder)…are there any other parallels with your life within the book? There’s actually quite a few if you want me to nerd out on it… There is a scene in the book where Bernie is shipping bikes and it makes him a little sad because they are all going to somewhere far away. This happened to me when I was at T-1. It hit me one day that we shipped most of our bikes out of town and the non-BMX people in Austin didn’t even know we existed. That inspired the T-1 music series we did for a few years. We wanted to interact more with the people right around us. 

Also, Bernie has a realization that not all bikes need to be performance bikes. This is something that inspired Fairdale Bikes. As a BMXer all I cared about was having the bike that met really specific performance demands, but a normal person couldn’t really hop on that bike and enjoy themselves. It used to bum me out that I loved riding so much but couldn’t easily share that with someone who hadn’t focused their lives on bikes. Somewhere at the very core of BMX (or any kind of bike riding) is the simple enjoyment of just balancing on two wheels. Sure, putting everything you have into your riding is awesome, but it is also fun to just simply “ride a bike.” Fairdale was truly born from the idea that we could make bikes that were just fun to ride. Take riding back to that simple core enjoyment. 

I guess one more thing is that Bernie uses my “mindlessly doodle” trick to get his creativity flowing for an especially tough design problem. 

I assume Monty makes an appearance or two? Of course. He kicks off the whole adventure! 

How far along are you in the process? Any hiccups or unexpected challenges along the way? I’m done! Well, there is a physical proof on its way to me. Once that gets a final review, books will start printing. It was pretty challenging to do the entire project alone. The paintings, writing, layout, and self-publishing is a lot of different hats to wear. Actually, the self-publishing process is super complicated but really pretty cool. You can make a book and distribute it worldwide from the woods in the U.P. of Michigan!

That cartoon you did about Hoffman was amazing…any potential for more stuff like that in the future? I would love to (and I’ve done a few little ones like this one about my dog Roscoe). The Hoffman one was really hard work though because I just had no idea what I was doing. I interviewed Rooftop for a similar project a couple years ago but I’m still sitting on the audio. The truth is I just need to force myself to learn some video editing/animation software and I never really seem to find the time. I bet if I poured a week into tutorials and studying, I would be set. There are so many stories that would be so much fun to animate!

Release date is June 1 and people that pre-order from your site get a signed hard copy, correct? Where else will the book be available? Yeah, June 1 is when the book will be released on Amazon. It should be live on Amazon sites worldwide (like Amazon.uk). Since I’m self-publishing I don’t really expect it to show up in local book stores, but they will have access to it. Maybe some cool bike shops will get them, too! I’m going to keep the pre-order open on my site (tajmihelich.com) for a few more days, and then place my order for books. After that, I’ll have hardcover copies available from me direct or there will be less expensive soft cover versions available through online booksellers. 

Pre-Order Taj’s Book, Bernie The Bike Builder…

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